Christian Is as Christian Does

Rev. Matthew Westfox. (Courtesy of the author)My colleague and fellow participant in the Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute at The Center for American Progress, Rev. Matthew Westfox, has an excellent ‘open letter‘ to conservative Christians opposing the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act over at The Melissa Harris-Perry Show page.

Here is an excerpt where he suggests that we all understand the proper place for promoting and preaching religious beliefs:

To be clear, I have the deepest respect for your religious beliefs regarding the morality of contraception. While I do not share them, I respect that well-meaning people of good conscience can come to different opinions on what Jesus calls us to. What I do not understand is why you turn to the courts and the law to press your religious claims instead of taking them where they belong–to your pulpits.

As a clergyperson, I believe there is incredible power to be found in the pulpit. Not to coerce, but to convince! If you believe so strongly that birth control is wrong and individuals should not use it, then why not take to your pulpits and your newsletters and every other avenue available to you in a free and open society and make your case?

Tell others about why you believe contraception is damaging to them physically or emotionally or spiritually, and convince them they should make another choice. Open your Bible and tell those who come to your churches which of Jesus’ teachings you believe commands natural family planning only, let others hear your words and decide whether you are right. Is that not what we are called to do as people of faith? Your current efforts render birth control more expensive for those you employ, compelling them to make the decision you wish, instead of allowing them to practice their own conscience freely. If you are so convinced of the rightness of your cause, why not trust that others will hear your arguments, hear your evidence, and decide to do what you think is right?

And later on, he points out that the current efforts to allow more employers to refuse employees contraceptive coverage hurts those that the very same Christian purport to protect:

A person who believes contraception to be wrong can simply decline to take it.  The sole consequence of your attempt to deny coverage is to deepen the economic burden of those of your employees who hold a moral position different than your own. In essence, you are using economic power to compel your own particular understanding of sexual morality on those who will have difficulty funding their own choices.

You are targeting and hurting those for whom that additional economic burden is the most difficult–the very people whom Jesus taught us to help. How is that Christian?

Good question.

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Oriana Spizzo

    Considering that access to affordable birth control would also considerably lower the current abortion rate, it’s troubling that conservative Christians continue to oppose something that would prevent deaths that they frequently consider on par with murder.

  • Dale

    Hmm…. I often get the sense that both sides of this controversy are talking past one another. For the sake of discussion, I will offer some comments. In doing so, I hope not to offend readers of this blog.

    I think Rev. Westfox misunderstands conservative objections to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Their complaint (or fear) is that they will be forced to subsidize something they consider morally objectionable, not that more employees will use it.

    If employers were required to subsidize access to pornography, I think the nation would unite against that requirement. Although some persons consider pornography to be morally acceptable, few would think that employers should be required to violate their own conscience by paying money in order to subsidize what they consider to be a harmful lifestyle choice.

    Of course, that comparison isn’t entirely fair. After all, most Americans consider contraception to be morally neutral, if not morally commendable depending on one’s personal circumstances. But there are religious objections to contraception, and some persons follow those religious teachings. Whether an employee decides to use contraception, or not, is really beside the point. The question for conservatives is whether an employer be required to subsidize an immoral practice.

    When Jesus talks of helping the needy he refers to addressing basic human needs: food, clothing, support to those who are sick, in prison, or in a strange land. Is contraception a basic human need? The conservatives who object to the Affordable Care Act would say “No.” I think this whole controversy centers on whether access to contraception is a basic healthcare need.

    To turn Rev. Westfox’s argument upside down, instead of government forcing employers to subsidize contraception, shouldn’t it (or persons in the community) convince employers to do this on their own free will? If subsidizing contraception is truly the Christian thing to do, shouldn’t churches use their persuasive abilities to convince employers to offer it?